The Nobel Assembly honored three scientists Monday for the drugs they have developed against tropical diseases, neglected and otherwise.
One-half of the prize went to William Campbell, professor emeritus at Drew University and former research scientist at Merck, and Satoshi Omura, of Japan’s Kitasato University, “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites.” The two were instrumental in the development of Ivermectin, a broad-spectrum anti-parasitic agent against roundworms.
One of Ivermectin’s names is Mectizan, and Merck donates Mectizan for the treatment of both river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, the two diseases specifically mentioned by the Nobel Assembly in its award announcement.
The other half of the prize was awarded to Youyou Tu of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against malaria.” That therapy is artemisinin.
Like many Nobelists, Tu is a past Lasker award winner, having received the 2011 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for her discovery of artemisinin.
In a video interview posted to the Lasker foundation site at that time, Tu recalled finding artemisinin in a way that is the polar opposite of modern screening efforts—by screening through ancient texts of folk remedies to see whether any of traditional Chinese medicine’s remedies would stand up to the scrutiny of modern science.
Screening more than 2,000 potential remedies resulted in the rediscovery of a medicine first described in 340 C.E. by Chinese physician Ge Hong in the “Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies.” Today, artemisinin and its derivatives are part of the combination treatment that is the global standard treatment against malaria.